Abandoned but not Forgotten = Adventures in the Subway and Street Improvements Digitization Project

By:  Angela Vanderbilt

The fascination and level of interest in Cincinnati’s attempt to build a subway is as alive today as it was when the first shovel-full of dirt was lifted from the canal bed in January, 1920. For some, it is a fascination with Cincinnati’s history, a desire to learn more about how their city has developed. For others, it is a fascination with what lies beneath Central Parkway, the desire to walk the tunnels through which no subway train has ever run.

Inspecting the Subway construction
Inspecting the construction, March 17, 1920

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Brighton Bridge = Adventures in the Subway and Street Improvements Digitization Project

By:  Angela Vanderbilt

Brighton Bridge, which spans Central Parkway connecting Colerain Avenue with McMicken Avenue, was built during the construction of Section Four of the subway. The last portion of subway to be constructed in the former Miami-Erie Canal bed, Section Four extended from Mohawk Street to Brighton’s Corner, and included an underground station at Brighton.

Canal Footbridge

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Getting Around = Adventures in the Subway and Street Improvements Digitization Project

By Angela Vanderbilt

In keeping with the neighborhood theme of last week’s blog, I wanted to take a closer look at some of the neighborhoods through which the collection of subway and street improvement photographs passes. The collection is a fantastic study of Cincinnati’s urban development as the city grew in those early decades of the 20th century and some neighborhoods expanded and others were established. Many of the streets and boulevards that bounded the neighborhoods of the collection have changed over time, with expansion as well as other city infrastructure improvements.

The collection begins its journey in downtown Cincinnati along “Canal Street”, known today as Central Parkway. The earliest photographs in the collection focus on subway construction work between Walnut Street to the east and Plum Street to the west, as well as street improvement work around the downtown area and along the riverfront. Using the information written on the negatives, we are able to identify the specific location of the majority of photographs on a map. However, some of the streets and alleys named in the photographs in this section of downtown no longer exist. High-rise office buildings, convention centers, and sports arenas now occupy the spaces through which they once ran. Continue reading Getting Around = Adventures in the Subway and Street Improvements Digitization Project

Plotting Coordinates = Adventures in the Subway and Street Improvements Digitization Project

By:  Angela Vanderbilt

The proposed subway route crossed through several neighborhoods north and west of downtown Cincinnati, as did the street improvement projects of the 1920s – 1950s. Whether the project involved razing a bridge over the canal to make room for bulldozers or digging trenches to lay new sewer lines before paving streets, the photographers captured these streets and neighborhoods in their images, and noted the location in the majority of photographs.

As mentioned in the blog “A Changing Landscape”, negatives of the subway project have date and location information written along the outer edge. When printed, this information is not visible. But later photographs, and the majority of street improvement photographs, have this information directly within the frame of the image, which was made visible when printed. Generally located in the lower left corner, this information provides the viewer with a quick and easy point of reference. Continue reading Plotting Coordinates = Adventures in the Subway and Street Improvements Digitization Project

Behind the Lens = Adventures in the Subway and Street Improvements Digitization Project

By:  Angela Vanderbilt

As I’ve mentioned in earlier blog postings, the identity of the subway and street improvements photographer – or more likely, photographers, due to the 30-year time span of the collection – was not known at the outset of our digitization project. As more negatives are sent for scanning, we’ve gotten closer to revealing the identity.

Just last week, our scanning service came across a negative with “Photo by L.G. Folger” written at the bottom, below the date and location of the photograph. Very exciting news! This same name has also been found on the back of printed photographs. This is definitely a step in the right direction, considering it was found written directly on a negative as well as on prints! Other prints have a round stamp on the back with the information “W.T. Myers & Co., 238 E. 4th St., Cincinnati, Ohio”.

L.G. Folger Signature

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Horse Power = Adventures in the Subway and Street Improvements Digitization Project

By:  Angela Vanderbilt

An interesting element appears now and again in the subway construction scans. Among the engineers, construction crews and machinery are some four-legged workers. Images of horses being utilized in the subway construction effort appear as late as 1926, and images of horse-powered transportation, including buggies and delivery wagons, are seen as late as 1931.

Horses in Canal

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Under Construction = Adventures in the Subway and Street Improvements Digitization Project

By Angela Vanderbilt

When construction of the subway started in January, 1920, three contractors had been selected by the Rapid Transit Commission to complete the work: D.P. Foley General Contractors, Hickey Brothers and Fred R. Jones Company. The construction of the 16-mile subway loop was separated into nine sections, with contractors bidding for work on each section. One section might include construction of tunnels within the old canal bed for underground subway tunnels and stations, while another section might require construction of tunnels through a hillside, above-ground station construction, or grading of terrain for tracks to be laid in the open.

Map of Cincinnati

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Surveying Cincinnati = Adventures in the Subway and Street Improvements Digitization Project

By:  Angela Vanderbilt

In order for Cincinnati to keep pace with other major cities at the turn of the 20th century, city leaders and citizens recognized that a rapid transit system was necessary for the successful growth and prosperity of Cincinnati. Although several electric street car and interurban railroad lines, as well as horse-drawn streetcars, were utilized for passenger transportation around the city, each line was separately owned and passengers were required to switch from one line to another to reach the downtown business district. A faster, more direct and more efficient means of reaching the downtown was needed.

Canal Bed

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Safety First? Adventures in the Subway and Street Improvements Digitization Project

By:  Angela Vanderbilt

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, the collection’s photographer (whose identity continues to elude us) did not hesitate to include scenes of everyday life in his images that document the subway and street improvement projects. As he photographed the progress of the construction, which included images of the workers, engineers and commissioners in charge of the projects, he also captured the curiosity of the city surrounding these projects.

Photo of Surveyor showing bystanders

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Consumerism in 1920s Cincinnati: Adventures in the Subway and Street Improvements Digitization Project

By:  Angela Vanderbilt

In addition to the scenes of everyday life that are found in the photographs of Cincinnati’s subway and street improvement projects, our photographer also captured a glimpse at the consumer side of this growing city. Images of billboard advertisements, as well as shots of shops and markets, gas stations and factories are found within the photographs, providing a backdrop to the construction and repair work that were the intended subject matter.

Found among the images of neighborhood drugstores and shops are shots of companies such as Cincinnati’s own The Kroger Company. In the images below, early Kroger storefronts are seen, one located at the corner of Mohawk and Central Parkway, and the other (to the right of Linwood Drug Store) at the corner of Eastern and Linwood Avenues.

Kroger Storefront

Kroger Grocery Store Continue reading Consumerism in 1920s Cincinnati: Adventures in the Subway and Street Improvements Digitization Project